Bioengineers Have Modeled The Workings of The World's Most Basic Synthetic Life Form

Life is not easy. Even the smallest cells have a lot of chemical reactions that allow them to thrive in a chaotic landscape.

If we want to know where to draw the line between life and bubbles of old organic soup, we need to expose the core components and map how they work.

This has been the goal of biochemists for a number of years, who have succeeded in designing organisms that barely survive in a laboratory.

Scientists from the J. Craig Venter Institute in the US, the University of Illinois in the US, and the Technische Universitt Dresden in Germany have created a detailed simulation of their latest minimalist microbe.

Zaida Luthey-Schulten is a chemist at the University of Illinois.

A team of researchers led by Luthey-Schulten analyzed the diverse genetic, metabolic, and structural changes that take place in a replicating culture of syntheticbacteria called JCVI-Syn3A.

Simulating the workings of the most basic of organisms, such as species of Mycoplasma or the common microbe Escherichia coli, still requires a few mathematical fudge factors to broadly model the operations of numerous sub-systems. The full range of detailed descriptions of everything from the genes up and the nutrition down just isn't possible for these comparatively simplebacteria.

The J. Craig Venter Institute removed as many genes as they could from Mycoplasma mycoides in order to save it.

The synthetic life form called JCVI-Syn1.0 was replaced by something even more basic. There is a new version of the JCVI-Syn 3.0.

The updated version has 531,000 bases divided among 473 genes. The bare-bone genome is left to take care of replicating and growing because the laboratory provides all of its needs.

There is a confusing diversity of shapes in the progeny of JCVI-Syn 3.0. The latest version of the minimal cell is called JCVI-Syn3A.

Its creators have a good idea of what genes their synthetic cell contains, but are still working out what each one does.

It's important to know how each atom and molecule diffuses through the cell in order to make things more difficult.

Luthey-Schulten says they developed a three-dimensional, fully dynamic model of a living minimal cell.

Our model shows us how all of the components interact and change in response to internal and external stimuli. This model will help us understand the fundamental principles of life.

The simulation confirmed a few suspicions, such as the fact that most of the minimalist cell's energy went towards dragging in essential materials.

It gave an accurate description of the timelines of genetic and metabolic reactions, as well as explaining the relationship between the rate of production of the lipids and the cell's shape.

One example of how to minimalize the functions of biology is the JCVI-Syn3A. Life is creative in how it overcomes obstacles.

Now that we have a proven model, researchers can build up its complexity again to figure out how different genes add to its function.

We might see new 'lite' versions of organisms in the future. Synthetic life forms are not completely novel.

Life is still complicated, but it is easier to study.

This research was published in the journal Cell.